A Social Spin on Greeting Cards

Open Me teams with Threadless to shake up a $4 billion industry

Ilya Pozin likes greeting cards, but he doesn’t like going to what he calls “the dreaded greeting card aisle at the store” to buy one. “You have all these horrible, mass-produced designs” that take forever to pick through, he complains. Not that e-cards (which are also mass-produced and take just as long to scroll through) are a huge improvement. Knowing that cards still represent a $4 billion industry, Pozin figured there had to be a better way. “We saw a huge opportunity in terms of the lack of convenience and lack of quality,” he said. “We thought we could do better.”

Pozin’s attempt to do better has just hit the market as Open Me, which offers a unique spin on the card-sending ritual. He inked a deal with Threadless, the Web-based brand famous for its crowdsourced T-shirt designs. In exchange for a stake in Pozin’s company, Open Me got access to Threadless’ archive of hipster designs from 200,000 artists around the world.

That’s an enviable archive for a new brand to start with, but Pozin’s real differentiation comes from Open Me’s fully customizable, social format. Customers can not only choose their own design and write an optional caption for it but, after logging into Facebook, can also send the card around to friends, inviting each to add a message and a photo before the finished card finds its way to the recipient. Pozin charges $4 to print the card on demand and snail-mail it; the e-version is free. “We thought: How could you make a greeting card company today?” he said. “That’s where the social features come in.”

It’s too early to tell whether social cards will sweep the segment, but Pozin is correct about the opportunity part. While traditional greeting card sales have slipped 5.4 percent over the past five years, e-cards have grown by 20 percent. And, so far at least, Open Me is doing something that its competitors are not.

“Card companies haven’t differentiated themselves from the rest of the market,” said Threadless CEO Jake Nickell. “So we did something more original but still made it feel social with a tieback to the value of an actual card—then complemented it with artwork from Threadless.”

Threadless’ artwork isn’t just cool because the company says it is. Its crowdsourced model pretty much assures that the designs it sells will be popular with millennial eyeballs. A consistent best-seller: a drawing of a sad-faced tortilla with the caption: “I don’t want to taco ’bout it.”

But Julie Cottineau, founder and CEO of consultancy BrandTwist, points out that Threadless’ trendy artwork could be a liability for Open Me if it’s not handled correctly. “Threadless is very intellectual and hip—very Brooklyn,” she says, “but allowing people to add their own pictures might be mixing highbrow content with low, and cheapen the experience.”

Cottineau also worries that Open Me, as a brand name, “might be leading in the wrong direction. It’s not about opening me, it’s about sharing me.” Critiques aside, Cottineau believes the new brand is in step with the times: “Visual messaging is where everything’s headed and tapping into that trend is smart.